Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
LIFE GIVES US CHOICES, and we make decisions.
Some choices are easy like “Should I get vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” Most of our decisions are like this, and the consequences aren’t life-changing. Most books on decision-making describe these kinds of intuitive, gut-reaction decisions. But not all decisions are of this type.
Some are farsighted choices as Steven Johnson calls them in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most. These are the big decisions—life choices—like should I move to Denver? Should I take that job? Should I move home? Should I buy that car? Should I buy the house? Should I get married?
How do we make the right choice in these kinds of decisions? The answers are rarely a clear yes or no. These are complex problems with multiple variables.
We are all familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s two-column method. Most of us just tally the number of items on each list and go with the longer list. But Franklin recommended an important final step in this process. He advised that you conduct a kind of “Prudential Algebra” to each entry to give them relative weight because not all reasons are of equal value. It makes good sense, but as we know, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
What we need is “a routine or a practice—a specific set of steps for confronting the problem, exploring its unique properties, weighing the options.” A deliberate and measured approach that allows you to think about a problem from multiple perspectives.
Johnson puts forth a three-step method “designed specifically to overcome the unique challenges of a hard choice.” All decisions have a context, perspectives, and possible consequences. This method helps to address each of them.
The method begins with building a full-spectrum map of all of the variables and the potential paths available to us. Then we make predictions about where all those different paths might lead us, given the variable at play. Finally, we decide on a path by weighing the variable outcomes against our overarching objectives.
Given our disposition towards scientific methods, we would like this to be scientific to remove the human weaknesses that challenge our decision-making. But as Tolstoy’s Prince Andrew counseled in War and Peace, “What theory and science is possible about a matter the conditions and circumstances of which are unknown and cannot be defined, especially when the strength of the acting forces cannot be ascertained?” The Prince continued, “What science can there be in a matter in which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one knows when?”
We all use mental maps whether we know it or not. The trick is to be intentional about it. “What the map should ultimately reveal is a set of potential paths, given the variables at play in the overall system. Figuring out which path to take requires other tools.” In the mapping step, you are looking to expand the context of your decision to include all possible decision paths.
The art of making farsighted decisions “with as much wisdom as possible lies not in forcing that map to match some existing template, but instead in developing the kind of keen vision required to see the situation as it truly is. And the best way to develop that vision is to get different pairs of eyes on the problem.” It requires a bit of humility as well. You are more likely to be right to the degree that you recognize that you may be wrong. We must embrace the likely possibility that we are wrong to get it right. Often what stands in our way of getting it right is our certainty that we are right. The lesson: explore other alternatives.
Since 1980, Michael McKinney has been the president of LeadershipNow to encourage you to develop the leader in you — to become an active participant in shaping your future and the future of others. In 1980 he also founded M2 Communications as a way to manufacture and develop tools to improve your performance and enjoyment of life through the use of educational web sites, articles and multimedia presentations. He is also the publisher of Foundations Magazine—a personal development e-zine—and is the president of the CenturyOne Foundation—a non-profit organization that promotes biblical archaeology, historical and biblical research, lectures and publications on subjects pertaining to the time of the first century C.E./A.D.
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